Christianity Knowledge Base
See also: ''List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality''
See also: ''History of Christianity and homosexuality''

The issue of Homosexuality within Christianity has become a matter of intense theological debate among some Christians, with ongoing argument over whether homosexuality, and specifically homosexual sex, is immoral or a sin.

Traditionally, Christian churches have regarded homosexual sex as sinful, based on their interpretation of certain passages in the Bible. This position is still affirmed by the largest Christian denominations, including the Catholic and Orthodox Churches and most Protestant denominations, especially among Evangelicals such as the Southern Baptist Convention. However, there has been a minority of interpreters who have advanced a different understanding of these passages and have argued that homosexuality can be seen as moral. This approach has been taken by a number of churches, notably the United Church of Christ, the Methodist Church of Great Britain, the Moravian Church, the United Church of Canada, Friends General Conference, and the Anglican Church of Canada. A new denomination, the Metropolitan Community Church, has also come into existence specifically to serve the Christian LGBT community.

Within denominations which still officially regard homosexual sex as sinful, there are also theologians who take the opposite view. Most notably, the Anglican Communion's leader, the Archbishop of Canterbury, Rowan Williams, regards same-sex relationships as moral, while most churches within the Anglican Communion do not hold this position. Many denominations have therefore experienced deep divisions over this topic, including the Anglican Communion, especially after the consecration of Gene Robinson as a bishop in the Episcopal Church in the United States of America, who was the first openly gay bishop in the Communion.

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The Bible and homosexuality[]

Main article: The Bible and homosexuality

The Bible is regarded by most Christians as inspired by God or at least recording God's relationship with humanity and includes within it certain moral teachings. Passages from the Bible commonly used in the debate over homosexuality include Leviticus 18 and 21, Romans 1, 1 Timothy 1:10 and 1 Corinthians 6:9-10. The arguments over these passages have centered on the extent to which these passages are still relevant; whether they refer only to certain sexual acts or to homosexual orientation; and how they should be interpreted, understood and applied.

Early Christianity[]

Many Church Fathers condemned homosexuality [1]. In his fourth homily on Romans [2], St. John Chrysostom argued in the fourth century that homosexual intercourse is worse than murder and so degrading that it constitutes a kind of punishment in itself, and that their enjoyment actually makes it worse, "for suppose I were to see a person running naked, with his body all besmeared with mire, and yet not covering himself, but exulting in it, I should not rejoice with him, but should rather bewail that he did not even perceive that he was doing shamefully." He also said:

But nothing can there be more worthless than a man who has pandered himself. For not the soul only, but the body also of one who hath been so treated, is disgraced, and deserves to be driven out everywhere.

The Council of Ancyra (314) prescribed a penance of at least twenty years' duration for those guilty of "bestial lust" [3]. There is dispute whether this reference is to homosexuality or bestiality, but it was received in the West as governing penances for sodomy [4].

Not everyone agrees that the wealth of condemnations are fully characteristic of early Christianity. Namely, Historian John Boswell has argued that Adelphopoiesis, a Christian rite for uniting two persons of the same sex as brothers or sisters, amounted to an approved outlet for romantic and indeed sexual love between couples of the same sex. He drew attention to Saints Sergius and Bacchus, whose icon depicts the two standing together with Jesus between or behind them, a position he identifies with a pronubus or "best man". Others have argued that the union created was more like blood brotherhood; and that this icon is a typical example of an icon depicting two saints who were martyred together, with the usual image of Christ that appears on most religious icons, and therefore that there is no indication that it depicts a wedding. In his essay The Church and the Homosexual [5], he attributes Christianity's denunciations of homosexuality to alleged rising intolerance in Europe in the 12th century, which he claims was also reflected in other ways. This theory seems impossible according to the numerous doctrinal sources before the twelfth century that condemned homosexual intercourse.

Main article: History of Christianity and homosexuality

The Middle Ages[]

The most influential theologian of the Medieval period was Thomas Aquinas, regarded by Catholics as a Doctor of the Church. His moral theology contained a strong element of teleological natural law. On his view, not all things to which a person might be inclined are "natural" in the morally relevant sense; rather, only the inclination to the full and proper expression of the human nature, and inclinations which align with that inclination, are natural. Contrary inclinations are perversions of the natural in the sense that they do seek a good, but in a way destructive of good. [6] [7] [8]

This view points from the natural to the Divine, because (following Aristotle) he said all people seek happiness; but it turns out that happiness can only finally be attained through the Beatific Vision [9]. Therefore all sins are also against the natural law. But the natural law of many aspects of life is knowable apart from special revelation by examining the forms and purposes of those aspects. It is in this sense that Aquinas considered homosexuality unnatural, since it involves a kind of partner other than the kind to which the purpose of sexuality points. Indeed, he considered it second only to bestiality as an abuse of sexuality [10] [11].

An earlier Doctor of the Church, St. Peter Damian, wrote the Liber Gomorrhianus, an extended attack on both homosexuality and masturbation [12]. He portrayed homosexuality as a counter-rational force undermining morality, religion, and society itself [13], and in need of strong suppression lest it spread even and especially among clergy [14].

Hildegard of Bingen, born seven years after the death of St. Peter Damian, reported seeing visions and recorded them in Scivias (short for Scito vias Domini, "Know the Ways of the Lord" [15]). In Book II Vision Six, she quotes God as condemning same-sex intercourse, including lesbianism; "a woman who takes up devilish ways and plays a male role in coupling with another woman is most vile in My sight, and so is she who subjects herself to such a one in this evil deed".

Her younger contemporary Alain de Lille personified the theme of sexual sin in opposition to nature in The Complaint of Nature by having nature herself denounce sexual immorality and especially homosexuality as rebellion against her direction, terming it confusion between masculine and feminine and between subject and object. The Complaint also includes a striking description of the neglect of womanhood:

Though all the beauty of man humbles itself before the fairness of woman, being always inferior to her glory; though the face of the daughter of Tyndaris is brought into being and the comeliness of Adonis and Narcissus, conquered, adores her; for all this she is scorned, although she speaks as beauty itself, though her godlike grace affirms her to be a goddess, though for her the thunderbolt would fail in the hand of Jove, and every sinew of Apollo would pause and lie inactive, though for her the free man would become a slave, and Hippolytus, to enjoy her love, would sell his very chastity. Why do so many kisses lie untouched on maiden lips, and no one wish to gain a profit from them? [16]

The tone of the denunciations often indicate a more than theoretical concern. Archbishop Ralph of Tours had his lover John installed as bishop of Orleans with agreement of both the King of France and Pope Urban II [17]. In 1395 there was a transvestite homosexual prostitute arrested in London with some records surviving [18], and the Twelve Conclusions of the Lollards included the denunciation of priestly celibacy as a cause of sodomy [19].

Early Modernity[]


Frontispiece to the first edition of the King James Version

King James I of England and VI of Scotland commissioned the translation of the King James Version of the Bible, also known as the Authorized Version, which is generally considered the most important Bible translation into English, having extensive influence on Anglophone Christianity, English literature, and the later development of the English language itself. Some revisionist historians have said, based upon an assortment of contemporary accounts, that James had male lovers throughout his life, beginning with Esmé Stewart, 1st Duke of Lennox, and was not much interested in his wife. This was open enough that the saying "Elizabeth was King: now James is Queen" has survived [20]. Responding to criticism of his sexuality, James adopted a severe stance towards sodomy. His book on kingship, Basilikon Doron, lists sodomy among those “horrible crimes which ye are bound in conscience never to forgive.”

An Italian text published anonymously in 1652 by Antonio Rocco, L'Alcibiade fanciullo a scola, was about a teacher's successful attempt to persuade the much younger Alcibiades to have sex with him. Although set in ancient Greece, it includes much anacronistic material, especially pertaining to Christian arguments, and denounces the story of Sodom and Gomorrah as a fiction made up by the Hebrew elders. [21]

In France a similar text, Histoire de Dom Bougre, Portier des Chartreux, written in 1741, mocks biblical injunctions and extols same-sex love, as does Voltaire's The Bible finally explained (1776). It was followed by the Marquis de Sade who in his Dialogue entre un prêtre et un moribond of 1782 denounces religion (and other morality codes) as "man-made." In England the pseudo-Byronian poem "Don Leon" (written in the voice of Byron but of uncertain authorship, published in 1866) vehemently denounced the abusive treatment inflicted on homosexuals as based on a dubious tale.

I grant that casuists the Bible quote,
And tell us how God’s tardy vengeance smote
Lot's native town with brimstone from the sky,
To punish this impure delinquency,
Unmindful that the drunkard's kiss defiled
(Whilst yet the embers smoked), his virgin child.
But reason doubts the Jewish prophet’s tale.

The Modern Controversy[]

Prolegomenal issues[]

There are several theological issues which have been considered extensively by Christian thinkers long before the contemporary debate about homosexuality which have become issues in the debate, or which influence the positions taken.

The basis of theology[]

Many of the debates among Christians relate to, or derive from, differences in what is taken as providing authoritative information about God and his will, or more generally which kinds of arguments should be persuasive for Christians.

In traditional Christianity Scripture is understood as the central authority, and in some traditions as the only truly definitive authority (a position called Sola Scriptura). Exegesis, or the reasoned study of the text to discover its own meaning, is a central concern, especially for believers in Sola Scriptura. The classic formulation of Sola Scriptura regards "good and necessary deduction" from Scripture as authoritative; what these deductions might be is a frequent subject of controversy. [22] [23] [24]

Additional authorities are accepted by other traditions. Catholics and Eastern Orthodox regard Sacred Tradition and Ecumenical councils as additional authorities, and the ordinary Magisterium is authoritative in Catholic theology [25]. Methodism derives doctrine from the Wesleyan Quadrilateral, which consists of Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. [26] There are also differing positions about continuing revelation (see Cessationism).

Liberal Christians consider the Bible a document of the human authors' beliefs and feelings about God at the time of its writing, which may reflect a heightened spiritual consciousness, or which may simply be primitive and wrong; liberal Christians often dismiss Biblical teachings, especially accounts of miracles such as the Virgin Birth. [27]

Choice and free will[]

The existence and nature of free will is a topic in philosophy of mind and theology. Incompatibilism is the view that determinism is at odds with free will, while compatibilism holds the two are not contradictory. Compatibilists such as Hobbes generally claim that a person acts freely only in the case where the person willed the act and the person could (hypothetically) have done otherwise if the person had decided to; what matters, Hobbes believed, is that choices are the results of desires and preferences, and are not overridden by force. (See Compatibilism and incompatibilism.) [28] [29]

In the history of theology, debates about the issue have happened between Augustine and Pelagius [30], Martin Luther and Erasmus, and the Calvinists and Arminians [31] [32]. At the Councils of Orange, Western Christianity officially adopted a form of compatibilist determinism known as original sin, according to which the sin of Adam and Eve has corrupted the whole human race such that humans are unable to refrain from sin, yet remain accountable, and cannot even desire holiness apart from Divine intervention [33]. However, belief in free will remains popular and many even regard free will as a basic doctrine of Christianity.

Among incompatibilists, the question of how voluntary homosexuality is, and what voluntariness might mean in this context, is a central concern in considering its morality. The Catholic Church regards homosexual intercourse rather than attraction sinful, although the attraction is still considered as a temptation to sin [34]. The anti-gay movement believes that homosexual orientation is also a choice, or changeable, and claims cases of people who have ceased to be homosexual [35]. The American Psychological Association claims that sexual orientation is not chosen (although there are notable psychologists who dispute this position; see Robert Skinner, for example), and many homosexuals report that they do not experience homosexuality as a choice [36]. No long-term, scientific peer-reviewed study has been conducted as to the effectiveness of reparative therapy.

Positions of specific denominations[]

Part of a series on
LGBT topics and Christianity
Homosexuality and Christianity

Transgender and Christianity

History of Christianity and homosexuality

The Bible and homosexuality
Queer theology
Blessing of same-sex unions
Ordination of LGBT clergy
LGBT-affirming churches

Denominational positions
Anglican · Baptist · Eastern Orthodox · Lutheran · Methodist · Presbyterian · Quaker · Roman Catholic · United Church of Christ · Uniting Church in Australia ·

Main article: List of Christian denominational positions on homosexuality

The many Christian denominations vary in their position on homosexuality, from seeing it as sinful, through being divided on the issue, to seeing it as moral. Among those that see it as sinful, there is further variance regarding whether it is the homosexual orientation that is immoral, or only homosexual acts.

See also[]

  • Heterosexuality
  • Religion and homosexuality
  • History of Early Christianity and Homosexuality
  • Homosexuality in the Roman Catholic priesthood
  • Queer theology
  • List of LGBT Christian organizations


  • Bates, Stephen (2004). A Church at War: Anglicans and Homosexuality. I.B. Tauris. ISBN 1-85043-480-8.
  • Boswell, John (1980). Christianity, social tolerance, and homosexuality: Gay people in Western Europe from the beginning of the Christian era to the fourteenth century. University of Chicago Press. ISBN 0-226-06710-6
  • Crompton, Louis, et al.; Homosexuality and Civilization Massachusetts: The Belknap Press of Harvard University Press, 2003. ISBN 0-674-01197-X
  • Gagnon, Robert A.J. (2002). The Bible and Homosexual Practice: Texts and Hermeneutics. Abingdon Press. ISBN 0-687-02279-7
  • Harvey, John F., O.S.F.S. (1996). The Truth about Homosexuality: The Cry of the Faithful, introduction by Benedict J. Groeschel, C.F.R.. Ignatius Press. ISBN 0-89870-583-5.
  • Helminiak, Daniel A. (2000). "Frequently Asked Questions About Being Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, or Transgender and Catholic" Dignity USA. <<>>
  • Hildegard of Bingen, "Scivias," Columba Hart and Jane Bishop, translators; New York: Paulist Press, 1990
  • Johansson, Warren "Whosoever Shall Say To His Brother, Racha." Studies in Homosexuality, Vol XII: Homosexuality and Religion and Philosophy. Ed. Wayne Dynes & Stephen Donaldson. New York & London: Garland, 1992. pp. 212-214
  • Saletan, William (29 November 2005). "Gland Inquisitor". Slate.

External links[]

  1. Homosexuality: Fact and Fiction
  2. That which is unnatural: Homosexuality in Society, the Church, and Scripture
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